I’m not much of a game player, computer games anyway. If you trawl back through the archives of this site you’ll notice it is a topic that is noticeably absent. I was bought a console once as a present (a PS1), used it a few times and then it got stuck in the bottom of a cupboard. I used to play a few games on my PC, but even that has slowly dried up. I tell you this because while I am obviously not a console jockey, I am tempted to buy a Nintendo Wii.
Microsoft and Sony couldn’t care less about me, I don’t buy the hardware or any games, I make no money for them and neither am I likely to. I’m not interested in more and better graphics, better games or more realistic gameplay. I’m not even tempted by their attempts to make their next gen consoles complete media centres. The Wii, on the other hand, doesn’t worry about processing power or photorealistic graphics, it’s all about fun, and that appeals to me. I’m not someone who wants to spend days learning the controls, let alone playing a game, I want to pick it up, play for five minutes, then put it away for a month, likewise I’d like to go head-to-head with friends and family, possibly without leaving my own home.
The Wii looks to provide this, with zero learning curve on many of its games, a range of techniques based on how you would expect to play in real life rather than a pre-defined combination of buttons and it has a distinct bent on making games less complicated, not more.
I don’t seem to be the only one tempted by it either, almost all my friends quite like the idea, gamers and non-gamers alike, and the lower cost means we’re more likely to take the plunge (an Xbox 360 will currently cost you around £190 for the core console, through to £270+ for the premium model with a hard drive and wireless controllers; the PS3 is expected to retail at between £349 and £419; the Wii, meanwhile, is £170-180). It’s already generating a lot of buzz out there with almost all the sites I regularly read mentioning it or recording their early experiences. Obviously it hasn’t been 100% positive news, with reports of Nintendo recalling some straps because people have been damaging various parts of their living rooms (there’s a whole site dedicated to this) and suggestions the controllers aren’t accurate enough as well as accusations that the Wii is too hand-holding. The irony with all the new consoles is that figures show that the PS2 is still outselling all the others with the exception of the Nintendo DS handheld.
Nintendo has taken a different path in an industry driven by a graphics arms race, they know they can’t compete with Sony and Microsoft to provide the next generation console, it was never really their forte even when they were the market leader, they have always been the equivalent of Citroen in the car market; providing innovative and exciting designs, some of which work, some of which don’t. I never thought the DS would work, but I’ve been proven wrong, and that is as much to do with the software that goes with the hardware, the games you can play, which is the area Nintendo is still undisputed king. Being the third console player certainly hasn’t hurt their bottom line either, in fact, they look to be doing better than the two ahead of them. They have had the best selling handheld console for as long as I can remember with the GameBoy, the PSP has done well for Sony, but still doesn’t sell as many, in fact, Nintendo look to have bettered themselves with the DS, something no one else has managed to do.
Some time ago I thought it would be a good idea to make simpler, more playable games. Drop the reliance on heavy graphics and multi-button combos and just make something that was first and foremost fun and easy to play. You could cut the production costs and so retail at a much lower price (I was thinking in the £5-10 bracket, a cost which most people would spend without thinking about it, rather than the £40+ a typical game retails at). You could then make the games much more appealing to younger children, parents, grandparents and non-gamers. Make sure they can be completed in a short frame of time and it would be much easier to make them inclusive rather than the dominion of a dedicated gamer, someone who is willing to invest days or weeks in perfecting a game. There are already examples of this out there, in the shape of something like Championship Manager, a game which doesn’t rely on graphics at all, but which can draw you in (although it does require a lot of time). The two best-selling games for the Nintendo DS are Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day! and Nintendogs, Tetris and Super Mario Brothers top the overall best sellers list (in 2006, according to Forbes, the top 10 best sellers were: Madden NFL ’07 (PS2), Kingdom of Hearts 2 (PS2), New Super Mario Brothers (DS), Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced War (Xbox 360), Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (PS2), NCAA Football ’07 (PS2), Madden NFL ’07 (Xbox 360), Brain Age (DS), Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Xbox 360) and Fight Night Round 3 (Xbox 360)).
If Nintendo can make someone like me excited about game playing again, and get a lot of the non-gamers to pick up a remote and play (as is happening with many relatives of game players) then it may be that the games industry as a whole will benefit and not just Nintendo. All they have to do now is keep up with demand.